Last Updated February 9, 2023.
The speaker recounts the exploits and accomplishments of the Danes’ best known kings, beginning with Shield Sheafson. Though he was a “foundling,” presumably without a noble family line, Sheafson quickly rose up and began to conquer all of the clans across the sea. Sheafson had a son, Beow, who the speaker claims was sent by “the Lord of Life” to lead and protect a people who had suffered greatly. Beow builds loyalty in his companions while his father still reigns. When Shield dies, he is given a proper sea burial and sent off with treasures. Beow then rules well before his son Hrothgar, “the great Halfdane” comes to power.
Hrothgar is a successful warrior king with numerous supporters. Once he has an established army and victories under his belt, he orders his mead-hall, Heorot, built. At first, the hall hosts great celebrations where Hrogthgar gives his men jewels as gifts; however, something sinister is lurking. A miserable demon, Grendel, is enraged by the celebratory sounds coming from Heorot, jealous of their fortune and his own misfortune. Grendel dwells amongst other monsters said to be descended from the biblical Cain and thus cursed and “outlawed.”
Once the men have been drinking for a while, Grendel approaches the hall to exact his revenge. He brings thirty of Hrothgar’s men to his cave, killing and feasting on them. The next morning, those who survived see the gore wrought by Grendel and mourn their fallen men. The king is paralyzed with grief, but Grendel comes again the next night to visit even more violence and death upon Heorot. The only way to avoid his wrath is to quickly leave the settlement altogether. The violence continues for twelve years, while the tragedy of Hrothgar and his kingdom travel across land and sea. Grendel has established a reputation as insatiably bloodthirsty. Even when all of his men are lost, Hrothgar, though, is protected on his throne by God; Grendel cannot broach God’s protected space. The Danes, unfamiliar with Christianity and its blessings, become desperate, making offerings to pagan gods.
Meanwhile, in Geatland, Beowulf hears about Grendel’s evil deeds and vows to rush to Hrothgar’s aid. He gathers a group of men who are eager to support and fight with him, and they embark upon an uneventful sea voyage. When they land in Denmark, Hrothgar’s guards question Beowulf who reveals his identity and mission. He establishes his pedigree and describes his lineage before offering his fealty to Hrothgar. The guards believe Beowulf’s story and allow him and his men to come ashore. As they are ushered toward Heorot, wearing their armor and tired from the journey, Beowulf and his men are impressed by the gleaming hall. A warrior named Wulfgar approaches and comments on Beowulf’s entourage, hoping they have arrived with sound motives.
Beowulf and Wulfgar formally introduce themselves, and the latter brings the former’s message to his king. Wulfgar urges Hrothgar to give the men an audience, and the king reveals he knew Beowulf when the man was a child and knew his father, as well. Hrothgar interprets Beowulf’s presence as a fulfillment of a pact made by his ancestors. He promises to reward Beowulf with treasure if he can rid the kingdom of Grendel. Wulfgar reports back to Beowulf that the king welcomes him and knows his family line.
Beowulf and his men then enter the hall and the hero approaches Hrothgar to make his introduction. He explains to the king that he is prepared to fight Grendel due to his battle experience and prodigious strength. Beowulf knows that Grendel does not fight with weapons,...
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so he too will combat with his hands, and he humbly admits that the outcome will be decided by God. If he dies, Beowulf wants his armor to be sent back to Lord Hygelac. The king narrates the story of an old feud begun by Beowulf’s father , who killed a Wulfing and began a war. Hrothgar eventually ended the conflict by sending treasure to the Wulfings. The hero’s father responded by vowing allegiance to the Danes, thus, in coming to Denmark to fight Grendel, Beowulf is making good on his father’s promise. Hrothgar reports that many of his men have vowed to fight Grendel but have been overcome by the beast. He then invites the hero and his troops to feast, and the Geats and Danes bond over food and drink.